BOSTON (USATODAY.com) – For the most important Boston Marathon in history, Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki will be posted at his usual spot, working the finish line, waiting for the runners to find their way to him. It's a job he loves.
This year, it's also a job he needs.
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The 2014 Boston Marathon means so much to so many. For Tlumacki, it's a search for catharsis, the chance to start over, to wipe the slate clean, to, as he says, "hopefully make some photos that will be beautiful and wipe out all the memories of the bad photos that I took last year."
Tlumacki stood at the finish line last April 15, taking some of the 2,000 images that he made that day, when the first of two explosions went off 40 feet away from him, so loud and strong that Tlumacki could only describe it as if he had been standing too close to a cannon as it went off.
Instinctively, he ran onto the course, to a runner who had been blown off his feet on Boylston Street, with three police officers, sprinting into action, facing him.
Tlumacki couldn't have known it at the time, but that photograph would become one of the most iconic images of a horrible day, appearing across the world online and on newsstands by the end of the week as the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Tlumacki kept going. He ran to the spot where the bomb exploded. At first, he couldn't see through the smoke. "I didn't know how bad it was because no one was making a sound," he said over the phone the other day. "It was very eerily quiet."
Then the smoke cleared.
"It was terrible," he said. "Body parts, just legs blown off, it was just a pool of blood. People with singed hair, their clothes burned, smoldering. Everyone who was seriously injured was being helped, so I just photographed the scene. I didn't want to take my eye off the camera."
He took about 200 photos in the aftermath of the bombing, then dashed off to load them into his computer on deadline.
He described himself as feeling "numb" until he had a moment to stop and think. "Then I felt horrible. I felt I took advantage of people when they were down. That night was the worst night of my life, just reliving that whole scene over and over and over again."
He didn't know if the people in his pictures were alive or dead. He thought of them for days on end, haunted by the way his graphic photos portrayed them.
But then, Tlumacki and the people in his photos started connecting. He wanted to meet them, and they wanted to meet him. When they got together, he was surprised when they thanked him for taking the photos. One woman wanted to see what her legs looked like moments after the blast, for one simple reason: she never saw them again. They were amputated the next day.
They texted. They stayed in touch. Tlumacki even chronicled the recovery of the woman who lost both of her legs and her daughter, who also was injured, and he vowed to take new pictures of them at the finish line this year.
That's the thing about a marathon, any marathon, but particularly this one this year. The people who were hurt, or who are honoring someone who was killed or injured, will be participants in the event itself. If such a tragedy had occurred at, say, a professional football or baseball game, the injured and the survivors wouldn't be playing in those games a year later.
But in this marathon, they can run, or walk – if not the whole way, at least a small portion of it.
Because of the nature of the attack last year, and the number of people who lost limbs, it's all the more fitting that survivors and those honoring the victims are returning to an event that has been so welcoming to the disabled for so long. In 1975, the Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division, and has offered prize money to competitors in the push rim wheelchair division since 1986.
This will be Tlumacki's 21st Boston Marathon, his sixth working at the finish line. For the past year, since the bombings, he said he has avoided the spot, refusing to even drive over it.
But he'll be there Monday, and he says he's looking forward to it. That's the great thing about marathons. They start fresh and run them again.
Photos: 10 News reporter Noah Pransky at the 2014 Boston Marathon